Sheffield gamblers 'losing more than £13m a year' on 'crack cocaine' of betting

Campaigners say fixed-odds betting terminals are highly addictive
Campaigners say fixed-odds betting terminals are highly addictive
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Punters in Sheffield are losing more than £13 million a year on betting machines dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling, new statistics suggest.

Customers across the city inserted an estimated £65m last year into fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), losing more than a fifth of that sum, and wagering a staggering £349m in the process.

That's according to figures highlighted by amusement and arcade gallery chiefs, who are calling for the maximum stake of £100 to be slashed on the machines, which they claim are highly addictive.

However, a spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers questioned the figures and claimed betting shops have 'far higher standards' for responsible gambling than arcades.

There are 83 betting shop licences in Sheffield, according to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG), putting the average sum lost by gamblers per shop at a little under £157,000, though the ABB says there are only 80 betting shops in the city.

The amount being lost on the terminals in Sheffield is the 12th highest of any local authority in the UK, based on CFG data.

BACTA, the trade association for the amusement and arcade gaming machine industry, says the statistics support its calls for the maximum stake to be reduced to £20 to protect gambling addicts.

John White, chief executive of BACTA, said: "Fixed-odds betting terminals are a hardcore form of gambling, entirely unsuitable for everyday high-street venues. With stake limits at £100, 50 times that of any other widely available gaming machine, they allow consumers and at-risk gamblers to rack up huge losses."

He added that data from the Gambling Commission showed more than 230,000 sessions on the terminals at betting shops across the UK last year ended in losses of over £1,000.

BACTA says new research contradicts claims by bookmakers that cutting the maximum stake would lead to wide scale shop closures and job losses.

Analysis by the economic consultancy firm NERA, which BACTA commissioned, concludes that capping stakes at £20 would not lead to any closures.

A £10 cap, the research shows, would put between four and 11 per cent of betting shops at risk of closure.

A spokesperson for the ABB said: "BACTA is only attacking betting shops because independent research recently showed that machine players lose more money, more quickly in an amusement arcade than they do in a betting shop, and that the time of day in which the most money is lost on all gaming machines in any venue is between 9am and 10am in amusement arcades – a time when most betting shops are not open."

"The average stake on a betting shop gaming machine in Sheffield is only £7.50 and most people only play for about 8 minutes.

"It is recognised that betting shops have far higher standards for responsible gambling than an arcade. We do not advertise machines in our shop windows, we give players the ability to set limits on the amount of time they play for, or the amount they spend, and the 400 people who work in Sheffield betting shops are trained to help anyone who may be developing a problem with gambling.

"None of these measures are available in an amusement arcade, which is why we have called on arcades to raise their game and match our high standards.

"This means that gamblers in Sheffield who want to bet safely and responsibly can only do so in one of the city’s betting shops."

The Government is due to review maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals later this year.

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